In the second part of Baylen Leonard’s chat with Sally Maybury, Baylen looks forward to The Long Road 2020 and considers his experience with Total Country TV…
Enough about last year then, what are your plans for this coming year?
The big plans are Long Road and everything that comes along with that, and radio, ultimately I do a lot of things but those are my things!
You seem to juggle a whole plethora of jobs, can you give us a typical 24 hours in your life?
Each day is so different, which is great! I always have my radio show, then usually there’s artists that are in town for interviews, quite often I have a gig that evening to go to. And in between that it’ll be meetings, there’s a huge amount of phone calls! Usually when I wake up there’s emails from Nashville that came in overnight that I respond too, and then once Nashville starts waking up more come in! I do spend a lot of time listening to music, whether it’s in between meetings, I’ll be on the tube or walking down the street, listening to music that I’ve been wanting to check out. And I think about where I can put them, whether that’s radio or Long Road.
I usually try to stop and have a cut off looking at my emails around 10pm, it gets towards the end of the day in Nashville then too so I can deal with it the next day.
There’s never really a normal sort of day, it’s basically a day filled with country music!
The dream of every Country Music Fan!
I have to remind myself of that sometimes, there can be stressful days obviously, but then ultimately I have to take a minute and remember that this is all fun and good!
Another string to your bow was Total Country TV, what are your thoughts on its demise?
Demise feels like a big word, but I know what you mean. Ultimately as a fan I want there to be as many opportunities as possible for country music to thrive in the UK, and I want there to be as many possible places for fans to get all of this stuff. But it’s 2020 now and in actual fact most people get their videos from YouTube, you can access them really easily yourself. So I get it’s a tough game to have something like music TV, from the side of being involved with it, and being on the team that brought it on air and made the decision to end it; it comes from the same place.
I’m always willing to take opportunities and try new things, and running a TV station is hugely complicated and expensive, even the big players in the game rely on a lot of other programming that isn’t videos to build up their base and keep the station on 24/7 so I think a pure music video station is a really tough thing to do.
I think as a fan it seems like there’s a lot of new videos coming out, but when you’re programming a station that’s on air everyday there really isn’t.
It was a great experiment to see if it was viable but ultimately there are things that time and money are better spent on, that will serve more fans in a bigger way.
It’s a tough one, because I loved having it there, and being involved in it, but I also didn’t know the longevity of it and how it actually served the purpose of what we want (which was to try and grow the genre, and give another platform) So we got to the point where we gave it shot, we did this and we’re proud of what it was but ultimately it was the right time to move on.
So, let’s talk Long Road, did you get much feedback from attendees last year?
We always have feedback, which is great, we always want feedback because we want to know what everybody thinks, what they liked or didn’t and we’re constantly looking at making changes, and as we continue to add things and grow we want to make sure everybody is getting the best for their buck and having the best time!
I have to say there wasn’t anything major last year that people had a problem with, there’s always little things and we totally take those on board. It’s so good to hear that the bits people wanted improvements on from year one I think we addressed those and we didn’t have any major complaints about anything, which is so pleasing!
That’s really important because you guys buy tickets and we need you there! I want to make sure that you’re getting what you want out of the festival and it seems like everybody was pretty happy.
So no major changes or improvements this year then?
There will definitely be improvements, just because things went well doesn’t mean we’re not going to grow and add new things. Year 3 means it’ll be bigger! I want to make sure that we have everything everybody likes, but add some surprises too, we don’t want to change anything radically.
It’s important to maintain the vibe and elements that make it special and make it the Long Road, we’ll definitely be growing with it but nothing radical.
It was considerably busier last year than 2018, which is great as you’re obviously doing something right! But are you cautious of getting too big?
It’s something we’ve always talked about from the initial idea of the festival, how big we would let it get, and how big we wanted it to get. One of the reasons we picked the venue and the land is because there’s room there to grow and grow, we never wanted to have to move. That doesn’t mean we’re going to grow it as big as it can get there, something like Long Road where so much thought has gone into what the experience is going to be for the fans and artists at the festival, the attention to detail we put into it, if you get too big it’s quite easy to lose that.
We want to grow, but we’ve always wanted it to grow slowly, we don’t want it to grow beyond the point where we don’t have control over the experience for the fans. We will grow, and we’re still growing, but yea we will reach a point where we go ‘this is as big as we want it to get’
That’s one of the reasons we’re doing it slowly, there’s lots of things we could do to make it grow quickly and big, but then suddenly it becomes a different festival. We’re not doing those things, even like adding new stages, of course we will add them as we grow, but they will always be thought out, never just thrown up in a bit of field we haven’t used so we can have a new stage and sell more tickets, it’s always going to be a new experience.
And it is just that for many of the fans, myself included. It’s an experience, not just about going to watch an artist on a stage!
Well thank you, that’s what we wanted it to be! It’s about having that world, the one we wanted to create. Having all of those details, like real neon signs in the Honky Tonk, or the vine growing up the Front Porch, or the smoke coming out of the chimney; all of these things are what makes the Long Road special, it’s important.
It makes a difference to the artist having those details there too.
Do you get much feedback from artists about the festival?
Yup, they talk about us over in Nashville! So many conversations I’ve had with artists this year have come about because their friends played last year or the year before and word has spread that this is a festival that you should play! And that’s great. We’re being approached now because they’ve heard about it and want to play it, they’ve heard it’s such a unique experience! That’s the most pleasing thing in terms of artists, that they’re coming to us now. It means we must be doing something right.
I’ve got lots of really nice cards and letters and notes from artists that played last year talking about how special and nice it was for them to play, and these are busy people that don’t need to do that. But for me and the team that’s really gratifying, obviously we want the fans to be happy but it’s so pleasing when the artists are happy with the experience too!
Apart from Baylen on the Front Porch performing with spoons, will we be shocked/amazed with any Long Road announcements this year?
I hope you’ll be shocked and amazed! The thing that we always try to do is make sure there is a wide spread of artists there, I always want there to be artists there that people are already excited about and can’t wait to see again. And I always want to have artists that haven’t been here before, that people have been wanting to see. I want new discoveries for people that some people won’t have even heard of, but that I know will blow people away. I want to have a couple of legendary artists thrown in there, and I always want some of that country that I grew up on.
And of course I want surprises, like ‘woah why are they on the bill’ they will always fit into this big genre of Americana and country, but you also want to have some people there that fit into that world but that are a little bit of a head scratcher at first. Obviously lots of people brings friends and family that aren’t necessarily country fans, so we want to make fans but also give them something they can latch onto.
This is the time of year it gets exciting, up until January it’s like a table with a bunch of puzzle pieces on but right now we start to get the edges together and it starts to take form.
The hope for Long Road is that people trust the festival and have experienced it for 2 years and know that it’s a unique and really exciting festival to be at, regardless of who’s on the line-up. That’s not to say the line-up isn’t important because the music is the most important thing, but I want people to want to be at the festival, and not necessarily think they have to have these people there before they want to come to it.
I’d imagine with your presale ticket numbers that is pretty evident?
Exactly and yea that’s a really good sign for us, as it means people do trust us, they know the line-up is going to be good, but know that regardless of the line-up there going to have an amazing time and it will be a highlight of the year for them.
But that also comes with its own pressure, obviously you guys have all bought your tickets line up unseen so I know I have to raise my game and make sure that you feel like you’ve made the right decision in buying those tickets before the line-up! It’s something that I’ll always consider. And also we have over 80 artists there, not everybody is going to agree on everything, but the point is you have the choice and for the most part will find stuff on every stage at every time of the day.
If anything, last year I think there was too many good artists resulting in clashes!
I have been thinking about that as well, there will always be clashes! I’ve spent lots of time at festivals running between stages catching a bit of one act and the other. That reminds me of some feedback we had actually about whether we could have artists playing more than one set at the festival, obviously not every artist and obviously not the headliners. So there will be more opportunities to catch some artists, which will help take away some of that festival stress of trying to catch all of the artists you love!
Although it’s a good problem to have! To have so much that you like in one place, that you have to consult some sort of spreadsheet! A huge amount of thinking and planning and manoeuvring goes into making sure there isn’t too many clashes, or if there are, they’re at least staggered so you can catch some of one act and another, but the festival is at a size that you can run between stages easily!
We’ll watch out for you dashing across the fields this year then!
I forever am!
September is certainly becoming the month to watch with Country Music now we have this amazing festival, so thank you!
That’s what we wanted, something that everybody looks forward to for the whole year. We put it at the end of summer, to give us all one last hurrah before we settle in for the long winter’s nights!
Well, it will soon roll round, and we can’t wait to hear more announcements on who we’ll be seeing there this year!
Thank you so much for talking to me today, we will catch up again soon!
Thank you, see you soon!